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Visa changes force us to notice talent “hidden under our nose”

This article was originally published by Shortlist on 30th April 2018:

kelly quirkRecruiters are often too quick to look overseas for talent, and in many areas the perceived skills gap is more of a search gap, says Harrier Human Capital CEO Kelly Quirk.

This year’s visa changes were a “political, opportunistic play by the Liberal Government”, but the impact hasn’t been as “brutal” as many feared, she told Shortlist.

There were always far more 457 visas allocated than there were permanent residency opportunities, for example, so residency pathway changes possibly haven’t affected Australia’s ability to attract overseas talent.

“There are always routes to permanent residency if you have the appropriate skills, but I think the way the information has been presented to the market has made people feel very unsettled and very confused about ‘what does it mean for me?'”

Opportunities for employers to adapt to the new scheme do exist, but they just need to be more strategic in how they recruit for certain roles, “rather than reacting to a tactical hiring need”, Quirk says.

“Sometimes in certain aspects clients make sweeping statements of ‘that person is not in Australia, we need to go overseas to find them’. I think recruiters just sell to the need and say, ‘okay, I’ll go overseas for it’.

“Now… firstly, there’s not that many skillsets that aren’t available in Australia. There’s sweeping statements around ‘the talent is not here’. The talent is here, but the reality is you’ve got to search more effectively for it.

“Sometimes we have a tendency to ignore what’s been hidden under our nose.”

Advocating for change

Where genuine skills shortages exist, recruiters and employers could be playing a bigger role in advocating for their inclusion on eligible skilled occupations lists, Quirk says, as an opportunity exists to present a business case to the Department of Home Affairs in January and July every year.

Quirk says the IT sector has effectively become the “squeaky wheel getting the oil”. Acknowledging that there are “tremendous” skills shortages in areas such as data science and cyber-security, she says some areas are even more in need of overseas talent, including those in risk and compliance-related roles where employees need a global perspective.

And she says employers operating in skills-short areas could also be using more labour agreements, which contain a pathway to permanent residency for applicants.

“A labour agreement could be that you suggest five, 10, 15 [occupations]. You make your business case, and [the Department] looks at it on a business-case-by-business-case basis.”

Minimising exploitation

Quirk notes the new scheme should minimise some of the exploitation possible under old arrangements where, for example, organisations would bring in cheap labour from India for IT roles and house them in Parramatta, NSW, under a broader management consultancy contract.

Those individuals would be working on 12- or 18-month secondments, but would be paid below industry wage minimums, she says. “This visa scheme now stops that.”

“Opportunities for employers to adapt to the new scheme do exist, but they just need to be more strategic in how they recruit for certain roles, rather than reacting to a tactical hiring need.”

– Kelly Quirk, CEO of Harrier Human Capital